From L to R, Caitlin Howden, Inessa Frantowski, and Kris Siddiqi in a scene from Second City’s Something Wicked (Awesome) This Way Comes. Photo courtesy of Second City.
This past Monday, at the Canadian Comedy Awards, Second City Toronto’s fall 2009 revue, 0% Down, 100% Screwed, won the Best Comedic Play award. Certainly, it was worthy; it had a talented cast, the lion’s share of laughs, and was consistent with Second City’s recent string of populist crowd-pleasers. But their current revue, Something Wicked (Awesome) This Way Comes, is considerably smarter and bolder.
That’s in part because it eschews the recent trend towards a title that explicitly denotes the show’s theme. 0% Down, 100% Screwed, for instance, focused on the hectic lives of downtown dwellers and their overpriced condos, and this spring’s Second City for Mayor drew inspiration from the early front-runners in our municipal election. But Something Wicked, with its less specific title—a play on a line from Macbeth—frees the current cast-creators to take aim at a wider variety of issues. They do so with gusto, skewering the G20 kettling tactics, how the federal Conservative government insidiously spins information (or fails to provide any), and explores how social media technology makes us less social in real life.
It also helps that this cast isn’t saddled with impressions; the Conservative press conference sketch, for example, doesn’t feature an impersonated Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or any of his ministers. Instead, a unctuous PR hack (played by Dale Boyer) delivers all the cringe and laugh-inducing Tory spins on abandoning the long-form census, ignoring environmental assessments on the Alberta oil sands, and deflecting legitimate concerns about rights and freedom in the name of national security.
Without having to parrot current figures, the talented cast has come up with characters and sketches that deserve entry in Second City’s annals. Rob Baker and Inessa Frantowski’s self-deluding exes who meet for coffee, Caitlin Howden’s hilarious and vague pop singer, and Adam Cawley and Baker’s show-stopping Israel conversation are all sensational, and all could have a nearly unlimited shelf life.
Credit’s also due to director Chris Earle and designer Camellia Koo for revamping the space and creating a stage the cast can roam freely around. One memorable sketch, featuring Kris Siddiqui as a deluded Scott Pilgrim–inspired character, uses the different levels of the stage to great effect, and many other scenes roam out into the audience.
If there’s any criticism of the show, it’s that some of the sketches cut a little too close for comfort for an audience there to see some breezy laughs; a sketch critiquing the short attention span towards the war in Afghanistan hits so close to the mark that some audience members seemed a bit perturbed, and Howden’s pop song didn’t entice many people to sing along. (That’s not due to musical director Matt Reid’s typically complementary music, but because they seemed to think that singing would prove they weren’t in on the joke.) But far be it from us to impugn a comedy show for being too insightful. The laughs are plentiful—the show isn’t clever to the point of alienation, and it certainly isn’t a downer. Even a sketch that starts out somberly mourning a family death turns joyous and absurd.
Something Wicked has already received glowing praise from those critics in town who know comedy; Eye Weekly‘s made mention of how Second City seems to be working towards a quicker turn-around for its revues. The flip side of that is that the show in its current incarnation won’t remain so for long, as the cast begins working on their next revue, so don’t count on being able to see this particular show for months on end. Go, soon.
Something Wicked (Awesome) This Way Comes runs Tuesday to Sunday at Second City Toronto.